Reports coming out of camp say that 3 of the Yankees original “core 4” (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettit, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada who retired in 2011) will be back to 100% strength by mid may. This has the bets on the Yankees chances at winning a 28th World Series title all over the map.
Questions surrounding their age and durability will last for the duration of the season, and a sneeze at the wrong moment will mostly likely produce doubt on their ability to make it to October. But one above the rest will shoulder the burden of being the face of these aging Yankees, and that is Derek Jeter.
Looking at Jeter by the statistics alone, last season was his best year at the plate since 2010 as he led the team with a .316 batting average.
He also added over fifty hits to his season total from 2011 going from 162 to 216 and more than doubled his home runs, increasing his slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the process. It’s hard to argue with an measured increase in statistics, but even harder when a player of Derek Jeter’s caliber returns to level of play that helped the Yankees to win World series titles since drafting him in 1995.
But breaking any bone at the age of 38 will raise suspicion, and a short stop breaking an ankle has raised very specific questions to Jeter’s mobility on the field going into next season. He will need to be able to cover a significant amount of ground with Alex Rodriguez out and the less mobile, hard hitting Kevin Youkilis playing third base.
Brian Cashman, Yankees GM, has been quick to note that Jeter’s injury was to his left ankle, which is not his planting foot. This means that his batting stance will not be dramatically affected because he will not be shifting weight onto a bad ankle. Cashman reported “Jeter is healthy and cleared for running, but the time frame allows us to take it slow. Right now it’s just a matter of knocking the rust off.
He is taking batting practice off a tee and taking ground balls right at him, but not laterally.” We can only assume that by not rushing his recovery, the on field play will return at the same pace as his batting ability.
The fact is, Derek Jeter is not a player who can be measured by statistics alone. His presence, both on the field and off, elevates the level of play of the entire Yankees organization. His nickname as “Captain Clutch” due to his post season heroics is not to be over looked when it comes to the mental aspect of preparing to face the Yankees, and his leadership to the team has been noted by both Joe Torre and Joe Girardi. Through it all, including AL and World Series MVP awards, his humility has been a testament to the game.
In December, his unsolicited call to the mother of a teacher gun down in the Newtown, Connecticut shooting simply added to the statement on his character.
The bottom line is that a lot of the Yankees hopes rest on the play and positive leadership of a healthy Derek Jeter this season. He has earned the benefit of the doubt to ignore the age and injury going into the season to see if he can still play at the level we are expecting.
The core 4 earned their championships and 3 still remain to take one more shot this year, and Derek Jeter is poised to lead that charge.